Spartans get 2nd try

Mich. State using 98-63 loss to UNC on Dec. 3 as motivation

Ncaa Men's Final

April 06, 2009|By Chris Dufresne | Chris Dufresne,Tribune Newspapers

DETROIT - Common sense says North Carolina will win Monday night's national title game at Ford Field.

Common man is pulling for Michigan State.

Cold, hard facts say North Carolina hangs its fifth championship flag.

Soft, warm and fuzzy wants the banner hung in East Lansing.

Clear, independent analysis has declared this game won't be close.

Rational thought computed the box score from Dec. 3, when North Carolina came to Detroit for a site-inspection dissection of Michigan State.

The final score was 98-63, Tar Heels.

North Carolina (33-4), though, is a different team now.

"I think we're better," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

Better than 98-63?

"I think we're better defensively," he said.

Today, somewhere in Chapel Hill, N.C., somebody is unfolding rented chairs and drawing up parade routes.

The Tar Heels have won five games in the NCAA tournament by 12 points or more with a roster of future NBA draft picks who put off professional paychecks for one last, glorious stab at amateurism.

Senior forward Tyler Hansbrough didn't want to leave after last year's loss to Kansas in the national semifinals, a game in which North Carolina trailed 40-12 before losing by 18.

"Any team who gets in this position wants to finish," Hansbrough said. "It is not just because we had all these people coming back."

With a win Monday night, Hansbrough, a four-time All American, can eliminate his name from conversations about all-time greatest players who left without rings.

Does Virginia's Ralph Sampson ring a bell?

Tar Heels guard Ty Lawson returned this season, too, affording him the chance to supplant Hansbrough as the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.

North Carolina craves national titles for the same reason sharks are drawn to blood. The pursuit of crowns is in Carolina's DNA.

Williams doesn't like being in the black-hat position of possibly hoisting a trophy against a backdrop of partisan Michiganders, many mired in economic misery.

"I do realize they have a cause," Williams said Sunday. "Well, we also have a cause. We want to win a national championship, period, the end. And if you would tell me that if Michigan State wins, it's going to satisfy the nation's economy, then I'd say, 'Hell, let's stay poor for a little while longer.' "

Clear and rational thinking, however, doesn't always get it right in sports.

Remember 1990?

Nevada-Las Vegas, coached by Jerry Tarkanian, crushed Duke by 30 points in the national title game. The NCAA's theme that year could have been: The Road Kill Ends Here.

The next year, in the national semifinals, with both teams returning essentially the same players, Duke pulled off a two-point upset en route to its first national title.

Michigan State (31-6), thank goodness, isn't the same team it was Dec. 3.

The Spartans had just returned home from Orlando, Fla., after playing three games - including an 80-62 loss to Maryland - in a four-day stretch at the Old Spice Classic.

North Carolina led by 14 at the half.

"In the second half, the wheels came off the cart," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo recalled. "We looked poor, we ran poor, we shot poor."

Izzo said he didn't show his team tape of the Dec. 3 wipeout. He didn't need to.

Michigan State knows what happened Dec. 3 is not likely to be repeated. The Spartans played without center Goran Suton, who missed the game because of an injury.

After Michigan State defeated Southern California in the second round two weeks ago, Suton broke the rule against looking ahead when he said, " ... Down the road, I would like to play the North Carolina game."

Payback, at this age, is a big motivator.

"You want some revenge," said junior forward Raymar Morgan, who led Michigan State with 21 points in the Dec. 3 game. "It's in our competitive nature that we want to play them again and get another shot."

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP UNC (33-4) VS. MICH. ST. (31-6)

Monday, 9:21 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9

Line: UNC by 7 1/2

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